Television

"Corporatisation has not succeeded in the entertainment sector" : producer Asit Modi

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In a short span of four years, Asit Modi has carved a niche for himself as a producer of successful sitcoms. 

Modi, who started off as an independent TV producer with Hum Sab Ek Hain on Sony, went on to produce Yeh Duniya Hai Rangeen for the same channel. He has recently come up with Meri Biwi Wonderful, an Indian adaptation of the hugely successful 1960s series Bewitched.

Meri Biwi Wonderful carries a novelty factor in that it combines comedy with elements of abracadabra and the supernatural.In a tete-a-tete with indiantelevision.com correspondent Amar, Modi comes across as a man who has a lot of passion and love for his work. Excerpts -

How did you start off as producer?

I have been involved with theatre in almost all capacities since college. In 1988, it struck me that producing TV software could be a viable business. After that, I starting learning the nuances of the television medium and after three years was able to produce my first serial in Gujarati. In 1995, I co-produced Kabhi Yeh Kabhi Woh for DD Metro and later co-produced Rajani starring the late Priya Tendulkar for the same channel. Hum Sab Ek Hain was my first independent work as producer and it came on air in 1998.
 
Which subjects appeal to you? You seem to be a sitcom specialist.

(Laughs) No, no. In fact, I would love to do varied subjects. It's just that after the success of Hum Sab Ek Hain, the channel started feeling more confident about entrusting comedies to me. But I would love to work on other genres.
 
"In the wake of growing competition one needs to be all the more alert to changing viewer preferences"
 
How was 'Meri Biwi Wonderful' conceived?

Meri Biwi Wonderful, as you know, is based on the popular comedy Bewitched that was produced by Columbia Tristar in the mid sixties. The concept was given to me by the channel and I was asked if the same could be adapted in the Indian context. After working on the concept, I felt confident that it would indeed succeed with our viewers. See, it has a big novelty factor in it. For the first time on Indian TV, a sitcom is laced with magic and the supernatural.



In fact, I am proud to be associated with a Columbia Tristar production even if it is in an indirect way.
 
Has the recent trend of dailies made it difficult for producers like you to get good weekly slots?

Yes, I would feel so. Ideally, comedies work best as weeklies. But personally I am confident of making a good daily sitcom if I get a chance. I have, in fact, carefully studied most daily sitcoms to analyse why most of them have not worked.



I have also acquired the rights of over 1,500 stories written by a veteran writer Tarak Mehta for Chitralekha. I hope to adapt them into successful TV serials some day.
 
All your programmes have been on Sony. Is there any specific reason behind it?

No. In fact, I would love to work with all the channels. It's just that I have a great rapport with Sony. They have shown tremendous faith in me and I feel all the more motivated to live up to that faith.
 
Do you find channel EPs overbearing in their attitude nowadays?

Well, I would say they are more involved in all respects. We need to understand that in the wake of growing competition one needs to be all the more alert to changing viewer preferences. There have been occasions when I have had to re shoot a few scenes but I have taken it positively.
 
What are your sources of funding?

It's my own money and the revenues from my earlier serials, which I plough back into the business.
 
Who are your favourite directors on TV?

B P Singh, Gautam Adhikari and Raju Parsekar are among my favourite directors. I love thrillers and would love to create a riveting thriller myself some day. All of B P Singh's work is very crisp and stylishly shot. The man's passion comes out in all his serials.
 


"As long as a comedy is able to make people forget their worries and cheer them up, it's commendable"
 
Which are the areas you are personally involved with as producer?

I'm involved with each and every area. Right from the story to the casting to the actual execution, I contribute in every possible way. I produce what I love and leave no stone unturned in ensuring that my serials conform to the highest quality. For Yeh Duniya Hai Rangeen, I had created a sprawling housing complex at MBC studio to give a realistic setting.
 
Don't you have any plans for Neela Telefilms going corporate?

I do not have a plan as such. See, corporatisation has not been very successful in the entertainment sector. Because once you make your production unit a manufacturing factory, your individual involvement and passion that is so important for a quality product gets diluted. Of course, I want to expand and take up more serials but I would never undertake such volumes that I cannot bring out without my whole-hearted involvement going into it.
 
Of late, do you feel there has been a surfeit of slapstick on TV?

Well, I have never believed in categorisation of comedies. I only believe that there is something called good comedy and something called bad comedy. As long as a comedy is able to make people forget their worries and cheer them up, it's commendable.
 
Would you have produced 'Raamkhilawaan CM & Family'?

Well, that's a difficult question to answer as it is very hypothetical. See, even in comedies one has to make sure that there is something to hook the women audiences. As far as a political satire goes, on a concept level it runs the risk of alienating the women viewers. But when I saw a couple of episodes of Raamkhilawaan I found it exciting overall.



My decision on whether or not to produce a sitcom like Raamkhilawaan would have depended on several contingent factors.
 


"Once you understand the writer - his mind, his strengths and weaknesses, it's becomes relatively easy to get out of him what you are looking for"
 
Who are your favourite writers?

I have no favourites as such. I believe writing is a tough job and most writers who are in the business are reasonably good and talented. It's more a question of striking the right understanding with them, which happens over a period of time. Moreover, producers who are really passionate about their stories have their own take on it. I feel once you understand the writer - his mind, his strengths and weaknesses, it's becomes relatively easy to get out of him what you are looking for.
 
Which are the projects you have in the pipeline?

I have always taken up projects selectively. Right now, I'm working on two other projects. One is a social drama, while the other is a thriller. But both of them are at the concept level right now.
 
It must be tough financially for an individual producer with just one serial on air. Do you have some other business that keeps you financially stable?

Yeah, but TV is my passion and I'm obsessed with it 24 hours of the day. The only other business I would like to start some day is setting up a restaurant because good food is a major weakness for me.

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